Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery

Through the Kunai Grass: Portraits of the New Guinea Highlands 1951-53

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Photograph of Highlands man wearing a feathered head dress

The Berndt Museum of Anthropology presents its first exhibition for 2013 - Through the Kunai Grass: Portraits of the New Guinea Highlands 1951-53. 

This exhibition showcases the work of Ronald and Catherine Berndt while they travelled to Papua New Guinea in 1951.

Featured artwork: Portrait of a young man holding bow and arrows, near Kainantu, Eastern Central Highlands, Papua New Guinea. Photographed by Ronald Berndt in 1952-53. RM and CH Berndt Collection, 1952-3. [WU/P35207]

About the exhibition

Ronald Berndt was the Foundation Professor of Anthropology, arriving at the University in 1957; he was appointed Professor on the establishment of the Department in 1963, the same year in which he and his wife Catherine founded the international journal of Anthropology and Comparative Sociology, Anthropological Forum. 

The Berndts were among the first white outsiders to enter the high mountain valleys of the Eastern Highlands region. The dense forest, which impeded their ten-day trek, was broken by broad swathes of two metre high kunaigrass across the Highland valleys, where villages such as Kainantu were located.

These portraits of local people were taken on a small Leica camera, using precious Kodachrome I film, unobtainable in Australia in the immediate post-War era, but supplied to the Berndts by Margaret Mead at the American Museum of Natural History, New York. 

The Berndt Museum is currently developing linkages with the National Museum at Port Moresby and the National University of Papua New Guinea, to send this exhibition to the Highlands.

The Virtual Tour of the exhibition is available online. 

For more information about the museum, the collection and exhibitions, visit the Berndt Museum website.

Exhibition Period

8 February 2013 - 1 June 2013


The catalogue for this exhibition is available at the Berndt Museum, the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery and online as a downloadable file. A PDF Reader such as Adobe Reader is required to view this file. The catalogue features artwork and an essay by John Stanton, Curatorial Director of the Berndt Museum. 

Download the catalogue